The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention where very
concerned about the balance of power in the government they sought to
create. In the office of presidency, they were worried from past
experience with England’s king that a single person at the head of
government may take too much power and become a tyrant. However, they
were also aware that legislatures with too much power could also be
oppressive. Thus they sought to divide power between the branches, so
that none had too much, and they incorporated a system of limits on each
branch of government by the others. Thus, explained James Madison in
Federalist 51, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."
Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there have been many
battles between the branches of government over the scope of their
respective powers. One such battle concerns the power to conduct war.
This activity has students participate in a scored discussion of the following controversial question:
As an introduction to the scored discussion, students brainstorm the
advantages and disadvantages of having either the executive or
legislative branch of government control war powers exclusively, as well
as the advantages and disadvantages of shared control over war powers. Students can use the following handout, Chart: Advantages and Disadvantages of Location of War Powers, to organize their initial thoughts on the issue.
tackling the reading material, students may want to lay out an initial
position with regard to the amount of power a president should have in
wartime. Such a position could be written on this continuum worksheet or in the students’ notebooks and changed as the student gains more information.
Students should read and take notes on all material listed below to prepare for the scored discussion:
Once students have completed the readings, the scored discussion can take place.
After the scored discussion is finished, students should again note
their position on the continuum on how much power a president should
have in times of war, in particular explaining any differences in their
opinion from before the scored discussion.